Review: The Clever Little Tailor
The Clever Little Tailor: Bilingual English-Yiddish Edition
by Solomon Simon, translated by David Forman, illustrated by Yehuda Blum
Category: Middle Grade
Reviewer: Karin Fisher-Golton
The Clever Little Tailor is a collection of nine stories originally written in Yiddish by Solomon Simon in 1933. Some are inspired by Jewish folktales. The eponymous tailor, known as Shnayderl (which means “little tailor”), becomes known for his clever solutions to tricky problems. In successive stories, he is called upon to solve the problems of more and more powerful people, which take him further and further from home. While Shnayderl provides his ingenious help, he never stops wanting to return to his family and his quiet life as a tailor.
The first story touches on murder and blinding briefly, which pushes the edges of expected violence in a set of stories for a modern young audience. In the remaining stories, the violence is minimal. The cleverness, however, is consistently high and sometimes laugh-aloud funny. Though young readers may be a little slow to connect with an adult protagonist, Shnayderl quickly becomes relatable as an underdog. Readers will soon be rooting for the little tailor and turning the pages to see what he comes up with next.
Simon’s grandson, David Forman, translated the stories into English for this bilingual edition. His translation is accessible and engaging to a modern reader, while still giving a sense of the original voice.
The book’s presentation is as clever as its hero. The English appears on the left-facing pages and the original Yiddish on the right. The book is read from right-to-left, like a Yiddish book. Because Simon’s stories were divided into named sections, readers who are not adept at one of the languages can easily track where they are in the stories.
An illustration at the start of each story gives a visual sense of the setting. Intricately illustrated initial letters tie into the stories in ways readers will enjoy discovering. A “Note from the Translator” describes a cherished grandson-grandfather relationship, and how it impacted Forman and led to this book.
The Clever Little Tailor provides a glimpse into pre-World War II European Jewish life and a Jewish person’s place in it. Elements of Jewish folktales run throughout the book. The book itself gives English-speakers an experience of Yiddish, a non-Hebrew language that uses Hebrew letters. This engaging, unique collection is a contender for Sydney Taylor recognition, perhaps as a Notable Book.
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